Longtime Ohio State Fair general manager retires

two white men shake hands behind a lecturn
Ohio State Fair General Manager Virgil Strickler (right) shakes hands with ODPA's Scott Higgins. Strickler announced his retirement June 1. (submitted)

COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced that a nationwide search for the next general manager of the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair is now underway.

During a joint news conference June 1, Virgil Strickler, who has served as the Expo Center and State Fair’s general manager since 2004, announced that he will retire around the end of the year.

Fairfield County native Strickler is the longest-running general manager in the history of the Ohio State Fair. He began his career at the Ohio Expo Center in 1993 as agriculture director and was then selected for the role of general manager in January 2004.

“Today is bittersweet. I will be forever grateful for the last three decades at the Ohio State Fair,” Strickler said, in a statement. “I’ve grown up at fairs, and Ohio’s county and independent fairs are what makes our state fair so strong. I’ve watched my children, and now grandchildren, grow up here. The state fair means so much to generations of Ohioans, and I’m proud of the strong partnerships we’ve developed over the years, and how they have helped our state fair grow and improve each year.”

Strickler was instrumental in implementing the Ohio State Fair’s nationally recognized Youth Reserve Program in 1995, which has awarded $4.6 million in scholarships to more than 44,500 youth exhibitors since its inception. In recognition of Strickler’s dedication to the Ohio State Fair over the past three decades, DeWine renamed the program in his honor. The program will now be known as the Virgil L. Strickler Youth Reserve Program.

“Virgil has poured his all into these grounds over the past three decades,” said Angela Krile, chair of the Ohio Expositions Commission, in a statement. “He has paved the way for continued investments in our next generation of leaders and for great improvements at the Ohio Expo Center through the Expo 2050 Master Plan, and I am confident that both the Fair and Expo will continue his legacy of excellence and dedication to the youth of Ohio for years to come.”

Replacement search. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz, who also serves as a member of the Ohio Expositions Commission, will chair the committee responsible for identifying candidates for the general manager position.

Details about the position and how to apply are available at ohiostatefair.com and ohioexpocenter.com. Job applications will be accepted until Sept. 1, with the goal of having a new general manager in place by the start of the new year.

Virgil Strickler

More about Strickler. Strickler’s professional history began when he worked as an agricultural lender in 1979 at BancOhio National Bank. He then moved on to Producers Livestock Association, where he remained through 1993 when he started as the agricultural director at the Ohio Expo Center & State Fair. In fact, through his 30 years of service, Strickler continued to hold this position as agricultural director and oversees the more than 20,000 agricultural, livestock, and horse show entries at the Ohio State Fair.

He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 1998. At his direction, facility improvements such as air conditioning and ventilation improvements occurred in several buildings, and innovative award-winning agricultural education programs were introduced.

Outside of the fair, Strickler serves on the Ohio Fair Managers Association board, and has been actively involved in a number of other boards and organizations including the Ohio Department of Agriculture Livestock Exhibition Advisory Board, Ohio Agricultural Council, Ohio Amusement Ride Safety Board, Experience Columbus and the International Association of Fairs and Expositions.

Strickler has been recognized with several industry awards including the 4-H Fifth ‘H’ Award for his contribution to youth development (2000), the Honorary American FFA Degree (2018), and the Meritorious Service Award from The Ohio State University (2019) and the Ohio Friend of 4-H Award (2023). He was also inducted into the Ohio Fair Managers Association Hall of Fame (2014), as well as the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame (2017).


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!


    I just had to tell you how much my aunt Carolyn Thornton loved working at the Ohio State Fair, year after year (I, honestly, don’t know how many years, but, I’d guess FIFTY:) LOL!
    She was a much beloved teacher, too!
    My aunt passed away three years ago, but, I heard about your retirement and it made me think of her-thank-you! Sincerely, Carolyn Barrett


We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.